Social Media:
How is it Affecting Your Teen’s Mental Health

By Colleen Ohlman

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” -James Baldwin

It’s no secret that our teens spend hours a day on social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. For most of them, they have never known life without this influence and it has become a very central piece to their social worlds. Our teenage and even preteen children communicate with their friends this way through direct messages, snaps and stories. It is rare that they pick up the phone to talk, instead choosing to communicate via social apps. While we can hardly blame them for using the phones that we have bought them, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be hyper aware of the affect that these platforms can have on our children’s mental health.

A recent article published by The Wall Street Journal in September, 2021, discusses a study  that Facebook (who owns Instagram) conducted on the impact of Instagram on teens. The results were pretty astounding. More than 22 million teens log onto Instagram in the U.S. each day. One researcher states that “The tendency to share only the best moments, a pressure to look perfect and an addictive product can send teens spiraling toward eating disorders, an unhealthy sense of their own bodies and depression.” In one study of teens in the U.S. and U.K., Facebook found that more than 40% of Instagram users who reported feeling “unattractive” or “not good enough” said the feeling began after being on Instagram.

This is obviously worrisome for our children and something we should be concerned about. The constant need to compare one’s self to others is dangerous behavior and can lead to mental health problems including low self-esteem, body-image issues, depression, anxiety and eating disorders. While it can be tempting, is it realistic to think that we should just take their phones away for good? Technology has, after all, become an element that is intertwined with their social communications and connections as well as a channel for teachers and class assignments.

The question is, what can we do?

  • Talk to our teens on a regular basis about what they are seeing on these platforms and how it makes them feel. A positive self-image is crucial at this stage of life when they are searching for their place in the world.
  • Encourage them to do little things like putting the phone away at meal times or during conversations with others.
  • Remind them of their strengths and teach them to focus on their positive attributes.
  • Encourage them to set goals and pursue things that make them happy. This dialogue with our children is not a ‘one and done’ conversation. It should be continuous and ever present.
  • Be present and mindful of our time with them. We are role models for our children and should put down our own devices first. As they say, kids are the perfect mirrors of their parents; always watching, listening, imitating.